Chrysler Corp. has joined Ford Motor Co. in the "independent" auto repair business, opening its first stand-alone service center in Irvine over the weekend.
The Chrysler Neighborhood Service Center is owned by the Tuttle-Click Automotive Group but is not affiliated with the Irvine-based chain's Chrysler-Plymouth or Jeep-Eagle dealerships.
The idea, say Bob Tuttle, is that owners of any Chrysler product can bring their cars or trucks to the center, regardless of where they were purchased, for warranty work or other repairs and services.
Chrysler chose Tuttle-Click for its inaugural effort because the chain is a big Chrysler product seller and has experience in the fledgling factory service center business. It also owns the month-old Ford Auto Care Center in Irvine, the fifth in the nation and the first in California.
The Ford and Chrysler centers are located in an independent auto service mall on Irvine Center Drive in the Irvine Spectrum. Other tenants include an oil-change franchise and Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Volvo repair shops that are not backed by those car makers.
Ford and Chrysler hope the facilities will lure customers whose cars aren't under warranty any longer and who have defected to independent garages. "Before World War II, dealers had almost all of the auto service business," says Tuttle. "We've lost a lot of it since then."
He figures that Ford, with 14 Orange County dealerships, could easily use 50 of the auto care centers in the county. One big selling point, he says, is that the centers are designed to let customers build relationships with the mechanics.
At a dealership, customers say goodbye to their cars on the service drive and rarely see the inside of the garage or talk to the mechanics. Tuttle-Click designed its centers with catwalks overlooking the service areas so customers can see their cars and talk with the mechanics.
John O'Dell covers major Orange County corporations and manufacturing for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5831 and at firstname.lastname@example.org